UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Western nations on Wednesday in criticizing the world body's own Human Rights Council for picking on Israel as part of an agreement on its working rules.
The European Union, Canada and the United States had already attacked the singling-out of Israel's role in the occupied Palestinian territories for continued special investigation, under the deal reached in Geneva on Monday.
A U.N. statement said: "The Secretary-General is disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world."
The statement did not mention Israel or the Palestinian territories by name.
The 47-nation council was set up by the General Assembly last year to try to improve the U.N.'s image on human rights. It replaced a commission that had been widely criticized for ignoring rights violations in some developing countries.
The Geneva meeting aroused further controversy after Cuba and Belarus, both accused of abuses, were removed from a list of nine special mandates, which included North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan, carried forward from the defunct commission.
The council's charter preserves the watchdog's right to appoint special investigators for countries whose human rights records are of particular concern, something many developing states have long opposed.
Commenting on Cuba and Belarus, the U.N. statement said Ban noted "that not having a Special Rapporteur assigned to a particular country does not absolve that country from its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Ban welcomed the main innovation of the council, which is that all countries, even members of the Security Council, will periodically have their rights records examined. The review, he said, "holds great promise" for human rights promotion.
He urged council members to "take seriously their responsibilities and continue to seek out ways to improve the council's work in the months and years ahead."
The United States, which said on Tuesday the council deal raised serious questions about whether the new body could be unbiased, returned to the attack on Wednesday.
Alejandro Wolff, deputy U.S. permanent representative at the United Nations, accused the council of "a pathological obsession with Israel" and also denounced its action on Cuba and Belarus. "I think the record is starting to speak for itself," he told journalists.